Coffee roaster opening new shop in Howell focused on small batches, unique flavors

Coffee roaster Kevin Ridge, who founded Black Iron Coffee Roasters about three years ago, opts for uniquely-flavored beans produced in small batches by single farms and co-ops around the world. 

Ridge never uses mass-produced beans in his original handmade blends.

"Depending on where the coffee comes from, kind of like wine, you can get totally different notes," Ridge, a Novi resident, said. "I want to take people on a trip. ...You get different flavors from Central America, Africa, South American, Indonesia and other places."

Ridge is gearing up to open his first brick-and-mortar coffee shop at 119 W. Grand River Ave., which he is leasing, in downtown Howell, where he will hand roast specialty coffees on-site. 

The shop will also serve food and tea and feature live music and art. 

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He started selling bags of coffee he roasted by hand at farmers markets after experimenting with roasting as a hobby. He also makes custom blends for several businesses and sells products online. 

"We're not buying coffee from big producers and then throwing out the cheapest and easiest to get. ...We do a lot of tasting, and my supplier visits the farms, on the ground, to see how they operate and make sure they pay a living wage," he said. "It's all single-origin ... like I might get it from a farm that only produces 3,000 or 4,000 pounds."

Ridge has developed three signature blends and experiments with limited-supply, single-origin specialty blends. 

The names of his signature blends are inspired by his long-time career as a welder and 15 years as an instructor of welding and metallurgy at Henry Ford College in Dearborn. 

He named his Blend 26 House Blend coffee, which has notes of sugar cane, nuts and fruits, after the atomic mass of iron. 

His Cast Iron Espresso Blend is a dark roast with notes of caramel and chocolate. 

Wrought Iron Blend is his newest signature blend. He said it features beans sourced from Kenya that leave a subtle fruity taste on the tongue. 

"And we'll also be rotating single-origin, specialty blends, like maybe an Ethiopian and then switch to Costa Rican for a couple weeks," Ridge said. "We will get coffee from areas not as well known, like a couple times we got some from Malawi, Rwanda, places you might not think of."

His wife Darcie Ridge said coffee beans are comparable to wine grapes. 

"The weather, temperature and earth all gives them different flavors," she said. "Because it's all custom-done and not from big batches, there can be just slight variations (in taste) over time."

The shop will also serve nitrogen-infused cold brew coffees and teas.

A seasonal menu of baked goods, sandwiches and soups will be cooked on-site.

Ridge plans to feature live music and art in the coffeehouse. 

The shop, located in the former Mom and Pop's Bakery, which closed, will seat about 55 people at cafe tables, long communal tables and in a corner lounge area with a couch. 

"Our goal for opening is a month, month and a half from now," he said Friday. 

Jamie Creason, who owns the Applesauce Inn bed and breakfast in Bellaire, sells bags of coffee that Ridge custom makes for her and serves his coffee to her guests. 

"His coffees are so unique that I hope one day he comes (opens a shop) up here," Creason said. "We are both small business owners and Michigan people, so just to be able to support someone like that was a big part of selling his coffee."

Nathan Ryder Hazlerig, owner of Chicago-based hand-crafted furniture and decor workshop Urban Billy's will sell bags of Black Iron Coffee Roasters coffee and serve it to customers, once he opens his new store in the Lakeview neighborhood of the city. 

In the meantime, Hazlerig is custom making furniture for Black Iron Coffee Roasters shop in Howell.  

"He's a man of his craft and very careful with everything he does," Hazlerig said of Ridge. "He gauges his roasting just right, never over-burnt, and it allows for a lot of the flavor, characters and notes to come out of the beans. He's an artist."